Have a Seat

“It hurts to be beautiful.” I remember this saying when I was growing up. It referred to the idea that many fashion trends, particularly for women, are not made for comfort. Just think about high heels and panthose. Ah…the suffering we go through for the sake of fashion! Perhaps you’ve “evolved” beyond those harmful trends. But many of us still bow to fashion in our homes even if that means using furniture that contributes to bad posture or an achy spine.

Most people don’t know this, but my first degree is a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design. Although I still think of myself as an artist, I only put my interior design background to work when someone asks my opinion of how something looks in their house. However, the worlds of physical therapy, yoga, and interior design often share paths when it comes to our living environment. Certainly the artist in all of us veers toward the beauty or emotional feeling of a piece of furniture. But maybe we should reconsider that big, squishy couch. As we sink into furniture to binge watch our favorite shows, the tissues of the body are slowly remodeling into an unnatural shape. That’s why when we get up after TV time our body may not want to recoil into its correct posture. This  can lead to achiness or, eventually, back problems.

I’m a big advocate of proper posture. In past posts, I’ve given tips on proper seated alignment. Good posture is important for desk workers. But what about during our “couch potato” time? Certainly good posture can be achieved in any environment, but when considering furniture why not think about how it can help us maintain good postural habits while still feeling comfy cozy? Perhaps these seem like opposite sides of the spectrum, but when working in concert, then comfort and good posture can help you relax and restore.

When looking at a piece of living room furniture, one must assess the height, firmness and depth of the item. A piece of furniture that is too low can stress the knees, hips and back as one sits or stands. If it is too soft it can be difficult to get up out of. Soft cushions also do not offer support for the spine and can cause us to round the spine while sitting or reclining. A chair that is too deep can also cause us to slump. Potentially as we lean back to the back of a chair, the body may be creating an uncomfortable shape. A lack of support and slumping in our seats also puts more stress and weight on our low back…ouch!

Don’t worry….I’m not advocating ugly living room furniture that only allows our body to sit in one perfect postural position for hours on end. However, I am suggesting to keep the following tips in mind the next time you’re looking to update your furnishings.

First, know your body, your sitting style, and that of those that will be using the furniture the most. Think about leg length, hip strength and whether back pain is an issue. Know how long your legs are from hip to knee crease. This will give you an idea of what depth of furniture would work well for you. You may find a couch you love, but your back doesn’t touch the backrest because you have short legs. This may be fine if you usually sit with legs elevated or you like to scooch back and sit cross-legged while you relax. If you prefer to have your feet on the floor, opt for a different couch or use a firm throw pillow behind your back to take away some of the seat depth.

If you, your family, or someone who visits frequently, has arthritis, knee problems, or back problems consider getting seating that has a set height of 16 inches or more. This height will help put less stress on the joints on the descent to sitting. It will also be easier to rise up out of. Using the arms of an arm chair is also helpful for those who have trouble rising. If sitting and rising from a seat is, or becomes, uncomfortable or feels unstable, try strengthening the hip and low back muscles. A healthy back definitely benefits from comfortable, supportive furniture. Strengthening leg, hip and back muscles will further support the body.

Maybe you already have the perfect sitting area. Now it’s time to work on those muscles! Try these exercises and yoga postures to keep your body in great shape to be able to really relax into that furniture!

  • Sit to Stands:
    • Sit into a chair really slowly, then rise up from a chair  slowly and repeat (you’d be surprised how 10 or so of these will strengthen those thigh muscles!)
  • Clamshells
    • Lay on left side with hips and knees bent (fetal position)
    • With ankles together slowly open legs, raising right knee up
    • Make sure the pelvis is stable (not rocking backwards). Only lift knee to a height that allows you to keep pelvis stable.
    • Slowly lower the knee back to the starting position.
    • For more resistance you can place your right hand on your right thigh and apply resistance as you lift the knee.
    • Repeat 10-20 times per side
  • Supine Leg Lifts
    • Lay on back with knees bent and feet flat
    • Engage your deep abdominals first
    • With right knee straight, lift right leg 12-18 inches off ground
    • Slowly lower heel towards floor, then back up again
    • Repeat 10 times per side
  • Heel Raises
    • Lift heels up and down slowly 10-20 times
  • Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
  • One-legged Bridge Pose
  • Standing Figure Four that slowly transitions to Virabhadrasa (Warrior) 1

For a personalized sequence for to strengthen hips or relieve back pain, contact me at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com Find more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy on my website at http://www.wellnesswithlorie.com or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

Good Shoes and Yoga

There’s no body part that works harder than the feet. They are tasked with propelling us from place to place, transporting the load of the body, traversing uneven surfaces, and sometimes completing a “look” with stylish footwear. They are an integral part of the overall function of the body. This is why injuries to the  feet have such an impact on our overall health. There are so many structures in our wonderful, and wonderous, feet that there are many things that can go wrong. Rather than go into each malady in detail we will focus on how to keep the feet happy and healthy, and how yoga fits into this.

    • 3 way heel raises
    • Virabhadrasana 1 Lunge
    • Parsvottanasana
    • Prasarita Podottanasana
    • Lift toes and balance on heels
    • Tree Pose
    • Squat
    • utkatasana
    • Eagle Pose
    • calf stretch
    • Ankle rotation
    • cycling

And last but certainly not least, you should wear good, supportive shoes. Also consider getting inserts for your shoes if they don’t offer good support. This is particularly true when you need to walk, run or hike a distance, or if you spend a lot of time on your feet for your occupation.

Samskaras and Pain

Pain is an interesting word. We all know that pain means we hurt. Sometimes the reason we hurt is obvious….an injury for example. Other times the source of pain is not apparent. But how does pain develop? Pain can occur when there’s tissue damage….i.e. a broken limb. It is also true that pain can be severe even when there is no tissue damage. Pain is the brain’s response to trauma. This response can take place even if the area has healed.

Physiologically this works through neural pathways. The brain receive a signal from muscles and other organs. If the message is that there may be danger (think touching a hot surface) the brain sends it’s own painful signal via the nerves to pull away quick. All this happens in seconds. This is an important response that is designed to protect the body from injury.

This response can become a habitual one that occurs even when the danger passes. So the brain interprets a signal that previously was associated with danger, and it sends a signal of pain to protect from tissue damage. It seems a little screwed up, right? However, if the brain did not respond to touching a hot surface with pain, you may leave your hand on a hot surface and suffer 3rd degree burns. The problem occurs when the brain gets into the habit of sending pain signals when there is no danger to the body.

There is a yogic term for these habitual patterns. It is a samskara…a  learned response or pattern of behavior. Samskara can refer to emotional, social or physical behavior. The physical aspect of a samskara is the learned response of the nervous system to some sort of action or stimulus. Sometimes this happens quickly. A good example is practicing a balance pose. The first side often feels more shaky than the second side. Sometimes there’s a physical reason for this, such as strength differences between the two lower limbs. However, it is often a samskara. The brain and nervous system has already learned what to do from practicing the posture on the first side. Therefore side number 2 seems easier.

Samskaras can also contribute to chronic pain. The neural pathway signals for pain to occur in response to danger. Sometimes something occurs that has indicated danger in the past. Even though there is no current danger (i.e. no tissue damage) the brain still signals the nerves to respond with pain. This can  become a vicious circle because pain can increase stress which can make nerves more sensitive and thus more susceptible to pain.

It’s important to note that there is no one size fits all approach to reprogramming your samskaras or your pain. The first step should always be to visit your doctor, physical therapist or other healthcare practitioner. In addition to medical care it is useful to reduce stress levels and shift your focus away from the pain. Yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness practices can help to resolve painful samskaras.

If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

Pain Bringing You to Your Knees?

The knee has an important job. It helps us walk, and is the midway point between the hips and the ankles. The knee has the distinction of being the largest joint of the human body. It’s easy to take this simple looking joint for granted, but it is also the most complex joint in the body. The kneecap (patella) is shaped to fit precisely against the bones beneath it, like interlocking puzzle pieces. Other parts of this puzzle are structures designed to cushion and support the bones. This includes muscles, cartilage, ligaments and the menisci (cushiony shock absorbers on the inside and outside of the knee). The location of the knee joint makes it either a goodwill ambassador or bad news reporter to the rest of the body. Problems with the knees can affect feet, ankles, hips and low back. Plus, knee pain itself is no fun!

There are indeed many conditions and injuries of the knee. Today we explore  arthritis in the knee, and propose some solutions to keep our knees happy. Arthritis is a degenerative disease that causes stiffness, pain, swelling and lack of motion in the joints. The knee supports the upper body and withstands a lifetime of motion. Because of this, wear and tear takes its toll. The cartilage, which protects adjacent bones from rubbing against each other, starts to wear down. This process can also be accelerated from injury to the knees.

There are several things we can do to keep the knees healthy. First, alignment is essential. The knee should track over the center of the foot. (Keep this in mind in your next yoga class), When the knee goes inward toward midline it’s been found to contribute to arthritis pain and inflammation….ouch!

To help with alignment, start by making sure you have good shoes. Sometimes all it takes is good shoes with arch support to help align the knees and alleviate pressure on the joints. Also, keep in mind that the ankles, hips, SI joint, and low back all have a role to play in keeping the knees strong. Ankles and hips can get tight, so practice stretches to keep them supple. Strengthen the core abdominal muscles. This will support the low back, which will help support the knees.

Here are some yoga postures that can help your knees:

    • Utkatanasana (Chair Pose)
    • Utkatanasana hugging a yoga block between the knees
    • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)
    • Adho Mukha Svanasna (Downward Dog) Look back to see it your knees are aligned
    • Setu Bandha Sarvangasna (Bridge Pose)
    • Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
    • Uttitta Parsvokonasana (Lateral Angle Pose)
    • Plank
    • Supine Figure 4 Stretch
    • Supta Padangustasana (Supine Hamstring Stretch)

Working on the knees involves a lot of exercises or yoga postures because so many parts of the body support the knees. Regular yoga classes can help with creating suppleness in the tight areas of the body, and also strengthening hip and core muscles. If you’d like to join me for one of my classes, check out my schedule page here. I would also be happy to work with you individually. If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com.

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie